Living With Polio


Many survivors need to work because their jobs provide a necessary source of income as well as health insurance and retirement benefits. Many derive a sense of satisfaction or an identity from work. However, some face the dilemma of fulfilling work obligations and demands which can increase the strain on overworked muscles and increase “global” fatigue affecting mental acuity. The struggle to stay employed and the fear of potential loss of income creates a stress on personal relationships.

Survivors are encouraged to undergo periodic physical assessments to determine what kind of work can be done safely and to heed the advice of the evaluating physicians to prevent further harm. Health care professionals have noted anecdotally that survivors who are ill or injured may require three to four times the usual recovery period.

Early retirement can be delayed by implementing lifestyle changes and making workplace accommodations. For example, survivors can ask for assistance with certain tasks; use a ventilator while taking a brief nap during breaks; obtain a closer parking space; or use a city’s special service transportation system. Employers may be required to provide accommodations, as covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For example, employers could install special equipment such as a phone headset; invest in ergonomic furniture; reorganize job functions; modify work schedules; or install equipment to accommodate work in the employee’s home. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of Office of Disability Employment Policy, has trained consultants available (800-526-7234; 877-781-9403 TTY; JAN at who can answer questions about job accommodations from both employees and employers.

Businesses may take an annual deduction of up to $15,000 a year for expenses incurred to remove barriers in the workplace under the Architectural/Transportation Tax Deduction: IRS Code Section 190, Barrier Removal. Section 44 allows a tax credit; restrictions apply. See

When issues related to work are raised, survivors in the US are encouraged to look to employee policy handbooks, human resource manuals, benefit plan documents, and the Americans with Disabilities Act for guidance and assistance. Career and employment services are available through private, university, and library resources. Each state has federal- and state-funded vocational rehabilitation (VR) services designed to assist people with disabilities to obtain or retain employment. To connect with VR, check the phone listings under “Government, state.”

Excerpt from PHI’s “Handbook on the Late Effects of Poliomyelitis for Physicians and Survivors.” © 1999

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